How to Write Your Dedication and Acknowledgements
“OH NO! My Dedication and Acknowledgements sections are due to the publisher in thirty minutes. . . and I can’t think of who to thank!”
There comes a time with every book where you are preparing to be published. It's an exciting time full of butterflies, heart palpitations, and the recognition of the hard work and inspiration that has gone into your creation.
Suddenly you are faced with the very real task of a devoted and sincere dedication, as well as thanking and acknowledging everyone who has helped you on this particular book. If you’re like most authors, you will probably get a notification the day or week before your final changes are through, that your acknowledgements must be included.
For some, this is when a lot of joy and celebration unfolds. For others this is when panic sets in!
How in the world are you going to thank everyone who helped you on this path and not forget someone important?
The problem? I have forgotten people in that panic. Hundreds, thousands of authors have forgotten to acknowledge people in their panic of publishing, too. Put us together and we look like the zombie apocalypse, banging our heads against the nearest brick building when we should be celebrating!
Avoid the brick-banging phenomenon:
First of all, take a deep breath. That will help settle your nerves and provide oxygen to your brain for smart list-making. Second of all, let’s make sure we are fully aware of the difference between a Dedication of a book and its Acknowledgements section.
The Dedication is who you are dedicating the book to, and often includes beloved family members and friends for whom you are incredibly grateful for being in your life. Many of them look something like:
“This book is dedicated to Mom and Dad, for you never gave up on me.”
Sarah J. Maas, a quite popular fictional author of several high-fantasy series wrote a dedication for “Kingdom of Ash”:
“For my parents--who taught me to believe that girls can save the world.”
In a Court of Thorns and Roses, her dedication was full of additional meaning that her fans would recognize and goes as follows:
“For Josh--because you would go Under the Mountain for me. I love you.”
Sometimes, a dedication might be written to a wider audience or illustrate a passion that the author has.
Here’s a touching one from Elizabeth Smart, in her first memoir, “My Story”:
“This book is dedicated to the safe return of missing children everywhere.”
Although this one is unusual - and unusually long, it is one of my favorites as dedicated in The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis:
“Dedicated to Lucy Barfield
My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,
(If you already were a fan, you’re probably a bigger one now. . . Right?)
Your book’s Acknowledgements, however, is not who you are dedicating the book to but the actual acknowledgement of specific influences upon your path. . . for this book.
Be specific and make it meaningful.
Why do I say that? Because if you are not careful, you will soon believe you have to acknowledge the entire world, from the first moment of your existence, to the nurses in the hospital room at your birth to the taxi driver who got you to your agent's office on time last week.
Instead, I highly recommend that you think deeply and consider those magical forces behind your book’s birthing. For example, think of the core message of your book. Whether fiction or nonfiction, through your writing and living experiences, including the way in which you perceive the world, you certainly had “aha” moments which birthed the ideas inside of your mind, and ignited your passion and your genius to put words on the page.
Was there a person or persons present with you during these “aha” moments?
Plus, who told you that, “You HAVE to write a book!” and never gave up on you throughout the whole process?
Do they deserve that acknowledgement?
Oftentimes, books are written to fulfill a need in society or to help others overcome difficult things you may have experienced of which you are now a “lived expert” on the subject.
Who helped me to rise when I had fallen?
Who helped me to see that I was more than just my circumstances?
Who helped me believe that this book could be a reality when I thought it was doomed?
Who helped me pull the deepest aspects of myself out into the world?
Who spurred me on in my creativity and my genius when everyone else just thought I was weird or crazed?
Who were my greatest cheerleaders?
Who did the dishes and cooked the meals when I was in the throes of my writing passion?
And lastly, who will I be forever thankful for?
These are the people who truly deserve to be acknowledged.
Some of you have been on extremely difficult and powerful journeys. If so, your list may be growing extraordinarily long. I have seen people use a technique in which they group a large number of people into a significant category. A great example of this is Dr. Bruce Greyson, author of “After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond”:
“First and foremost, I need to express my boundless thanks to the multitude of experiencers who have participated in my research, some of whom have been filling out my questionnaires about their near-death experiences for more than forty years.”
Sometimes people become very fearful that they will forget someone and leave them out by accident (shudder). Think of a beautiful broad, sweeping statement that you can give and still honor the people that supported you.
“A special thanks to those who supported me to make this book possible. You know who you are. I honor you, and I will always be grateful for your support. This book would not have happened without you.”
It is possible to make your acknowledgements unusual and even fun so that people will read them! One particular author that I adore personally is Finn O’Malley. This is one piece to her two pages of acknowledgments.
“Hannah. My magical word goddess. The words “Thank You” are neither grand nor magnificent enough for your editing prowess. You made me see each of my characters differently, digging into the deepest corners to find the beautiful threads that needed to be melded together. Thank you for traversing this world with me.”
My biggest tip for writing acknowledgements:
Create a word doc and put it in your file at the beginning of writing your book so that as names and people come to you, you remember to acknowledge them on the way. If at all possible, don't wait until the publisher’s deadline just to hand them an incomplete list. This can break your heart and that of others.
Remember a book is a tangible product, with an end result, and as much as you might have a second edition, most books don’t. Give yourself time for heartfelt acknowledgements so the most important people in your world are recognized.
You will be eternally glad you did.